Discipline and Personality

By Sergt.-Major Instructor E.J. Simon, R.C.R.
Canadian Defence Quarterly, Vol. II, No. 3 April, 1925

The keynote of successful leadership is personality. Mere technical knowledge, mere experience is not enough. There must be something else.

In the training of the Canadian Militia we are confronted with a difficult task. It is difficult because we are unable constantly to apply the recognized methods of securing discipline. Drill is the traditional, and probably the best, method of producing "riflemen from mud." But unfortunately we are only able to administer occasional and indifferent doses of this medicine. The application is not sufficiently constant to be really efficacious and the visible results at least are not always encouraging. We are therefore bound to look around to discover something else that will ensure the intelligent subordination of the soldier to his leader.

We must, however, understand the real nature of military discipline before we are able to appreciate the value of a suggestion regarding this intelligent subordination. We may find an indication of the nature of military discipline if we look back into the dawn of human progress. There we should find the early parents exercising a regulating influence over the conduct and development of their children. We should find those parents trying to teach their children to follow such paths of conduct and development as they themselves had found most desirable for the attainment and preservation of the individual and family happiness and well-being. It is certain that any non-compliance with the parents' instructions would be brought to the notice of the child by various means—until the child had learned that parental control was of some value in his life and should be given some attention. It was necessary for the development and progress of the human race that the child be taught to conduct himself in strict accordance with parental ideas, and in order to ensure a proper influence in the child's life we should find that occasionally the parents might go so far as to inflict severe punishment for disregard of their wishes and orders.

The family became a tribe; the tribe a nation; the nation an empire. In each we find a supreme head to whom all elements must be subordinate. Without such subordination there could be no real unity and consequently no strength, no progress and no stability. Throughout all ages there has always been some one who. in some way or other. managed to secure the power over others. It was possible for such power to be exercised through the agency of fear and superstition and we may rest assured that such means of securing the subordination of the masses were not altogether neglected. But fear and superstition are but poor means of securing the desired subordination in an army. Slavish and passive mass subordination is not what military discipline requires — but rather an intelligent, active and co-operative subordination.

On the battlefield, at any rate, action has tended towards individuality. Command has been considerably decentralized until we now find the lowly non-commissioned officer exercising an important influence on the fortunes of a battle. The quality of the control which he exercises over his unit must be of a high order; it must not be based on so weak a foundation as fear, but rather on a foundation of intelligence and personality. It is not a system of discipline that will secure really intelligent subordination, but rather the permeation of the ranks with ideals and ideas. Thoughts must be centralized on one objective or idea and we must ensure that there is an intelligent display of initiative in the achievement of an objective. This display of individual initiative must not degenerate into in co-ordinated individual effort. The action of each individual must be subject to some idea, ideal or a personality—and for the majority of the rank and file the best dominating influence is that of personality. The soldiers who have fought the Empire's battles have not always been of a high intellectual stamp—but they have always been responsive to the influence of some great leader. In the end it is personality that holds sway.

It is not possible for a commander to control directly the individual soldier—and therefore, the development of personality in the junior leaders is of increased importance. In the army it is imperative that the will of the commander should influence the action of the individual. There must be one mind—and ultimately one mind only—guiding the destiny of the army. This has been ensured by the creation of a chain of responsibility and subordination. The commander's will is first of all expressed to his immediate subordinates and these in turn to their subordinates, until, ultimately, the platoon and section commanders, by the control they exercise over their units, are giving expression to the will of the commander. What the soldier does is not dependent so much on what the will of the commander-in-chief may be—but rather on what his immediate leader does. But the eventual interpretation of the will of the commander is ensured by organized subordination which produces that intelligent co-operation so essential to the success of any operation.

It is this aspect of co-operation that we should emphasize in our training. It is an appeal to the intelligence of the man whom we instruct. It will ensure that much-to-be-desired state of affairs where. the soldier surrenders himself absolutely to the control of his leader without at the same time losing his individuality and his power of initiative. This is a really difficult thing to accomplish, because it means that while ensuring that the soldier becomes in a sense mechanic in his reaction to the commands of his leader we must, at the same time, avoid that form of suppression which makes out of an intelligent man—an automaton.

The real nature of military discipline is to be found in this idea of co-operation. It is certain that ultimately each individual in an army will be actuated by some one great idea or by the example of an inspiring personality. There is great potency in such an ideal as the will to win, or the example of a leader who at the head of his troops hurls himself against a seemingly successful enemy. But the defeat of the enemy is brought about only by the co-operation of all elements comprising an army. We must therefore constantly keep in mind during training that we are striving to gain the co-operation of the soldier without coercion. This is best secured by a personality which attracts to itself the best that is in the men placed under its influence.

Years ago it was sufficient if the soldier gave a more or less rigid, unwavering, physical adherence to his leader and comrades. Nowadays, however, his adherence must be mainly intellectual. Standing in line to meet the massed attacks of advancing battalions required another type of discipline—which we are not losing very fast. The absolute subordination of the man was the only criterion of those days. Individuality was ruthlessly suppressed, and if at times it did display itself, it was in spite of, and not because of, the system of training then in existence. Marching, shooting, and obedience were about the only things which a soldier of former days had to learn. Today the soldier is, comparatively speaking, an intellectual giant. To-day, our soldiers are not only required to march, shoot and obey, but they actually dabble in the realms of science. They study physics, mathematics, astronomy, chemistry and what not. Men who are able to tackle such subjects cannot be disciplined by the old methods of constant soul-killing drill. Instead of instilling into the soldier the fear of punishment we must inculcate ideals of conduct and achievement; we must develop his mental faculties and we must encourage a display of reasonable judgment and initiative. There must be an appeal to the soldier's intelligence and our training must be moral training of the highest type.

Our own Canadian troops in the Great War were a splendid example of this type of training. They were, of course, a growth during the war. They had not, as it were, been spoiled by the traditions of the past. The free and open life of the country had developed in them a certain independence of spirit which could not so easily be brought into subjection, even if the leaders had been more experienced and capable in the traditional methods of enforcing discipline. Their self-reliance and resourcefulness, born of a continual contending for existence in a comparatively new country, were qualities pre-eminently useful in modern warfare. They were men well set in their habits of life and it was consequently futile to endeavour to mould them all into the same pattern. It could not be done because individuality is too fluid a thing to be moulded into some definite pattern. It was inevitable that these men should be given a great measure of freedom and an abundant opportunity for the expression of their individuality.

The discipline of the Canadian troops was not based so much on tradition and drill, on fear and superstition, as it was on personality. Our men were fortunate in having as leaders many a successful business man, whose success was largely due to his personality and his knowledge of human nature.

The keynote of successful leadership is personality. Mere technical knowledge, mere experience is not enough. There must be something else. There must be character, honesty, sincerity and enthusiasm—because these are the qualities that command the respect of others. To be successful, the leader must, first of all, inspire before he can teach and lead. His education and training will be of little value if there is not something in his make up over and above these. This plus quality must be something that attracts men and is to be found in an attractive personality. Such a personality is the product of high ideals, of honesty of purpose, and of sympathy with one's fellow men, because ultimately it is certain that no leader may be successful unless he is possessed of this sympathy.

A leader must feel confident that every man placed under him can become a competent soldier. No man should be condemned outright because at first he seems unlikely to make good. "He'll never make a good soldier" should not be heard-from the confident leader. Seemingly incompetent men should be a challenge to one's ability. They should be studied more closely and the best method of handling them discovered. In every man there is much that may be made useful for military purposes. The military profession is one of great ramification and all men may be more or less fitted into it somewhere. find out what your men can do and their disposal is easy. Encourage every man; advise him, show him his possibilities, get him to believe in himself and bring him under the influence of your own personality. In this way we shall be calling forth all the desirable military qualities in the man. He will want to make good because he has become interested in his own development. He finds great satisfaction in his achievements, he likes the competition with himself and if he is handled properly he becomes interested in co-operating with his leader and comrades in whatever tends to ensure the success of his unit.

It is the leader's personality that produces all this. If the men see their leader possessed of these qualities, they will naturally come to believe in the value of it all. A leader should therefore become interested in the life of his men; he should learn how they live and should take part in their recreations. In this way he will be getting in touch with the men's personalities and they in turn will be learning to appreciate their leader's personality. Thus the leader's personality may be felt in the proper direction, and military discipline will be well assured through the agency of personality.

Discipline and personality are inter-dependent, but a leader must realize that a domineering personality is not a dominating personality. A dominating personality does not have to be endowed with authority to enforce obedience, because its influence is enough to command the intelligent co-operation of those who are placed subordinate to it. On the other hand, a domineering personality is merely offensive; it is repugnant and repelling and it certainly does not secure that intelligent and willingly cheerful co-operation which is so essential a foundation of good discipline. A dominating personality engenders in the men a feeling of comradeship with their leader, but the domineering personality is offensive and is regarded by the men as antagonistic to their best interests. A healthy discipline depends largely on the healthy relationship that exists between all ranks, and all leaders should do their utmost to foster a healthy relationship by cultivating a dominating personality.

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